Controversial Foundation Requires Good Publicity before Releasing Grants

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March 11, 2014; Sylva Herald

Quintin Ellison reports for the Sylva Herald that a local nonprofit organization claimed that without news coverage from the paper saying the group had received a grant from the Evergreen Foundation, the organization would not receive the grant. The paper explained that it only covered such stories as space allowed, but as one of the members of the nonprofit’s board wrote in an email, “They don’t give the money until the article comes out.”

“Strange policy, if you ask me,” the board member continued. “But that might be looking a gift horse in the mouth!”

Other nonprofits have confirmed that this is the foundation’s policy: Favorable media coverage is required for release of a grant.

The publisher of the Herald says that “making such a requirement, or having an expectation a grant organization will seek to influence a newspaper, is inappropriate…Nonprofit groups cannot possibly guarantee publication, placing an unfair and unrealistic burden on them.”

A part-time publicist for the Foundation suggested, “If a provider does not want to publicize the grant for some reason, this can be waived.” Sounds like a risky strategy on the part of a grant seeker to us—and also beside the point. The Herald asked to speak to foundation director Tom McDevitt (whom we’ll get to in a moment) but he did not return the call.

NPQ readers may remember the Evergreen Foundation from previous stories that summarized some of the foundation’s issues with the local mental health provider that established it over its stewardship of property and money, so it may not be surprising that it is seeking to get good press but this strategy is so far out of the philanthropic box it is backfiring. Here is Ms. Ellison’s summary of the case.

Smoky Mountain Center, which manages mental health services in Western North Carolina, formed Evergreen Foundation 37 years ago as a means of legally holding property. McDevitt was formerly the director of Smoky Mountain Center; he resigned six years ago.

In 2012, Smoky Mountain Center sued Evergreen to gain access to money controlled by the nonprofit: Over the years, local, state and federal dollars totaling more than $20 million have been given to Evergreen. Ronnie Beale, a Macon County commissioner and member of the Smoky Mountain Center board, this week said the suit would enter mediation in April or May.

NPQ has seen many grant letters that suggest that the grantee is free to publicize the grant, but we have never seen one that required it for release of the money. Have you?—Ruth McCambridge

  • Michael Wyland

    I’ve seen many grant awards, including federal grant awards, that require specific branding, logo placement, and identification language in online and printed materials. The purpose is to promote the funder, the funder’s mission, and the funder’s participation in the funded project. Sometimes cumbersome, but almost never a problem.

    I’ve never heard of a funder demanding press coverage as a condition of receiving a grant award. I have seen requirements by funders that a recipient conduct public awareness activities, including media outreach, as a part of program activities. However, no person can guarantee that the media *will* cover an event or topic; they can only guarantee that they’ll make every effort to interest the media in an issue, program, or event.

    If such media outreach efforts are unsuccessful, the funder may take that into consideration when evaluating continuation or additional funding for the recipient. After all, funders grant monies to recipients to further the funder’s missions, using the recipients as the methodology for mission fulfillment. The key for applicants is to successfully and truthfully align their missions with those of the funder. If publicity for the funder is part of the deal, the recipient can’t guarantee it, but they should make reasonable efforts to fulfill their part of the bargain.

  • Andrew

    I’ve been a grant writer for the past 12 years and have never seen a stipulation like that. I’d be curious to know if this is a requirement they state up front, prior to the application process, or only upon award of the grant. If they do state it up front, I would probably advise my organization’s senior leadership that we should not bother pursuing the grant. Seems to be on the wrong side of the ethical line.

  • JulieRodda

    As a grant seeker and funding consultant I have seen verbiage in several MOU’s (memorandum of understanding) regarding press releases regarding the granted funds. I typically report back that the policy of XYZ organization is to submit this information to all local press avenues, yet it is beyond the control of XYZ organization as to what gets published.